Conflict Meaning and Features

20/04/2020 1 By indiafreenotes

Conflict can be defined in many ways and can be considered as an expression of hostility, negative attitudes, antagonism, aggression, rivalry and misunderstanding. It is also associated with situations that involve contradictory or irreconcilable interests between two opposing groups.

A few definitions of conflict are as given below:

“A simple definition of conflict is that it is any tension which is experienced when one person perceives that one’s needs or desires are or are likely to be thwarted or frustrated.” Follett simply defines conflict as, “the appearance of difference, difference of opinions, of interests.”

Chung and Megginson define conflict as, “the struggle between incompatible or struggling needs, wishes, ideas, interests or people. Conflict arises when individuals or groups encounter goals that both parties cannot obtain satisfactorily.”

According to David L. Austin, “It can be defined as a disagreement between two or more individuals or groups, with each individual or group trying to gain acceptance of its view or objectives over others.”

Louis R. Pondy has given a very comprehensive definition of conflict.

According to him the term conflict is used in four ways in the literature to describe:

(i) Antecedent conditions of conflictual behaviour such as scarcity of resources or policy differences.

(ii) Affective states of individuals involved such as stress, tension, hostility, anxiety etc.

(iii) Cognitive state of individuals, that is their perception or awareness of conflictual situation.

(iv) Conflictual behaviour ranging from passive resistance to over aggression.

Thus, we can say that fighting, hostility and controversy, all of which can be called conflict, are nearly every day fare for individuals and groups, although they are not always evident. It is an absolutely predictable social phenomenon and it should be channeled to useful purposes.

Features of Conflict

A state of conflict is characterized by the following features:

  1. It arises when two or more individuals or groups think differently.
  2. It is caused by different perceptions that different individuals hold about the same object or goal. While A thinks a course of action is right, B does not hold the same opinion. This leads to conflict of opinion on the same subject.
  3. It usually arises because of scarcity of resources. When people compete for scarce resources, they hold different views about how best they can utilise those resources to achieve the organizational goals.

Philosophy of Conflict

The concept of conflict has evolved over a period of time from classical philosophy of conflict to interactionist philosophy. There are three approaches on how management views conflict.

These are:

  1. Classical approach

According to this approach, management views conflict as bad and destructive for organizational performance. Conflict of opinion meant to result in anger and resentment. This creates disorder in the organization and effects its smooth functioning.

Conflict was, thus, dysfunctional (negative) in nature. If there was conflict in the organizational interest and individual interest, it gave importance to organizational interest as individual interest is considered subordinate to organizational interest (as advocated by Fayol). Conflict is thus, destructive as it cannot bind the management and workers together.

Management should, therefore, design organization structure in a manner that everyone understands the policies and rules clearly. Authority-responsibility structure should be well-defined so that everyone knows his limits of discretion. This would lead to quick resolution of conflict, if at all it arises.

  1. Human relations approach

This is also known as the behaviouralists approach to conflict. While the classical approach views that organizations should not have conflict at all, the human relations approach assumes that conflict is unavoidable. It is bound to happen because of differences in opinion and perception amongst individuals.

As conflict cannot be avoided, it should be resolved in a friendly way. Conflict, thus, naturally occurs in all organizations but should be resolved for the benefit of the organization and individuals.

  1. Interactionist approach

While the human relations approach accepts that conflict is inevitable and, therefore, acceptable, the interactionist approach takes a broader view of conflict. It encourages conflict in the organization as conflict promotes diverse opinions and beliefs. This promotes new ideas and easy adaptability to environmental changes.

Conflicts keep the group members lively in discussions and creative in idea generation. Thus, conflict is promoted as it promotes organizational performance.

Causes of Conflict

Conflicts arise due to the following reasons:

  1. Differences in perception

Differences in perceptions, values and attitudes of individuals or groups over the same problem leads to interpersonal or intergroup conflicts. For example, one group of individuals may want that all employees use HP computers to maintain standardisation while another group may promote different brands of computers to maintain individuality. Differences in views lead to conflicts.

  1. Excessive competition

Organizational resources (men, material, money, space etc.) are scarce and each unit wants maximum share of it. Competition amongst units for maximum share of resources leads to conflict.

  1. Differences in goals

Different goals of individuals or groups leads to conflict amongst them. In order to maximize profits, production department may want to produce limited varieties in large volume so that costs are minimized. Sales department, on the other hand, may feel that selling products of different sizes, colours and models can increase sales and, thus, minimize costs. Differences in group goals leads to conflict between the two. It may even affect the quality of products.

  1. Interdependence of tasks

When work is passed from one unit to the other, interdependence amongst units can lead to conflict. Output of first unit becomes input of second unit. If first unit fails to process its work on time, the second unit will have to wait and stay idle till it receives the process. This can cause inter-group conflict.

  1. Habit patterns

Some people like to argue and debate. They enjoy conflict as a matter of habit. It acts as a motivator for them to improve their performance.

  1. Personal characteristics

When group members differ in work attitudes, age, education, temperament and status levels, the potential for inter-group conflict is high.

  1. Ill defined authority: responsibility relationships

When authority and responsibility of individuals and groups is not properly defined, people do not understand each other’s role. There is lack of consistency in work activities and communication distortions take place. This becomes a source for inter-group conflict.